Nurturing the Nurturer

I started my chemo on Friday. I have to say that last week was really tough. Coming back to Utah for a second transplant is a bigger emotional transition than I expected and every stress in our life, from work to health, is peaking in the month of December. Why does everything come all at once? This is a subject for another blog, but I keep wondering why I can’t just have cancer for 6 months and have nothing else going on, for crying out loud.

I took a few days to go through a disgusted and irritated stage, then an angry stage, then a feel-sorry-for-myself stage. I don’t think spending extended time in these stages are very healthy, so it pushed me to either wallow or search for answers. My forced, but active search is paying off slowly. I am finding the answers one piece at a time. If the stress and strain is good for anything, this week it made me consider this:

If women are the great nurturers of the world, who nurtures the women? Men can be nurturing in their own way, but women have an innate talent for noticing the emotional and physical needs of others around them and tending to those needs. When Mom is the one needing attention, what’s a girl to do?

As I asked the smart women around me how they deal with this question, they helped me find three answers I was looking for – nurture your marriage, nurture your friendships and nurture yourself.

Nurture your marriage. Paul is my best friend and is the one I turn to for support. This week I learned that getting the support I needed from my him would depend on me pinpointing what I was feeling and being very detailed in describing what I needed. Paul and I think differently and he is not a mind-reader. I was struggling with the many issues of cancer, but I was having a hard time describing what was making me upset. His first instinct was to fix the problem. I had to talk it through. Once I was able to isolate what was bothering me, I was able to describe what he could do for me that would be the most meaningful to me. Then we were able to work through it together.

As I talked with my friend Georgia about nurturing one another in marriage, she told me about a marriage researcher named John Gottman who’s work was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, blink. She says she is in love with this insightful Jewish man. For any marriage, his work is fascinating. I collect good material on families like some people collect stamps, so I share this because it is great information.

Dr. Gottman says he can determine with 90% accuracy whether a marriage will last longer than 5 years. His research has lasted over 35 years and involved over 3000 couples. They have couples from all walks of life come into a room and discuss happenings of the day and then issues of conflict. If the heart rate of the individuals stay at a raised rate during the discussion, they have a 90% chance of divorcing within 5 years. If their heart rate is normal or drops, they have a 90% chance of staying married. How calm or gentle they were as they were conversing was the leading indicator.

All of the couples had issues to deal with, but how they dealt with them determined their success or failure. The masters of relationships were gentle in bringing up issues and took responsibility for being potentially part of the problem. The disasters wanted to “fix” the other person and wanted to be thanked for their efforts in correcting the defects. Good relationships assumed friendship and respect. They asked open ended questions, like “What do you think about…?” or “How should we handle….?” They assumed that the other person is fundamentally good, not flawed and in need of criticism or fixing. The masters used affection, humor, and positive emotions. The disasters used criticism, defensiveness, contempt (superiority) and stonewalling (listener withdrawal).  The masters could go through conflict, but could repair it.

He told a story of pitching his book to Random House in a group meeting. He wanted the attention of the marketing director in particular, but this director appeared to be the least interested. In a bored tone, the director asked, “In one sentence, how does your book help people?” Dr. Gottoman said, “Well, the book contains a lot of helpful information, but if I had to say it in one sentence, it would be ‘Do you know your spouse’s hopes and dreams?'” Immediately, the director got up and left the room. Dr. Gottman thought, “Well, that didn’t go so well.” He learned later is that the director left his Manhattan office, drove home to Brooklyn and walked in the door of his home. His wife asked, “Why are you home, did you get fired?” He told her no, looked her in the eye and said, “I really want to know. What are your hopes and dreams?”

Nurturing my marriage means that I know his dreams and he knows mine.

Nurturing your friendships. The gifts of women shine like diamonds to me after this experience. I find great support in calling my smart women friends, talking through ideas and listening to their counsel. They offer comfort in different ways than men.

I am grateful for my membership in the world’s largest women’s organization, the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This society’s mission is to provide relief to one another, and also to provide relief to those around the world. How I have needed this relief. The women I know and have served with in this church group have provided unbelievable support. They have brought me dinner, taken me to lunch, sent me notes, visited me and sent inspiring material my way. They lift me and relieve suffering. What a great society.

Women are naturals at nurturing and nourishing. They give attention, offer food, listen, show love, pay attention to details, set their own needs aside for a time, and offer help and support. They are perceptive to what is going on around them. I have relied heavily on such remarkable women, especially being away from my family. They are sources of wisdom and comfort and I hope I can return the love. It is time well spent nourishing friendships with women.

Nurturing yourself. My friend Pamela in Mexico City called me and said, “God is telling you to rest.” I awkwardly mumbled something about how 6 kids don’t let you rest, but she is right. In a normal time, I need to spend time and attention nurturing myself, and now even more so.

To me this means spiritual nurturing – taking the time to read scriptures and spiritual talks, listen to uplifting music, and pray. This is how I center myself and gain mental strength. These things give me the right perspective and a sense of purpose.

To me this also means recognizing my own hopes and dreams and spending time achieving them. This is very hard to do while tending to a family, especially with young children. But if I set my dreams aside or ignore them, it is easy to become a victim or martyr. If they are not important to me, who will they be important to? I realized that no one was going to do this for me. If I was waiting for permission or validation, I was waiting in vain. Now I am revisiting my list for my life’s purpose and mission. Being a wife and mother was on that list. My sister said that in elementary school I drew a picture of me, my spouse and our six children all turned and facing the sun. In my journal as a 15-year-old I wrote about wanting a family with 6 children. One of my life’s dreams has come true. The others will come, but only if I define them and go after them. I have a responsibility to nourish myself.

These three answers; nourishing my marriage, my friendships and myself brought me great joy this week. We will get through the rest as it comes, one day at a time.

(For more on Dr. Gottman, you can watch clips of his videos on You Tube like this one. It comes in 4 parts. His material is terrific.)

Round 3

I flew in from Mexico’s 85 degree weather to Utah’s 23 degrees and a blanket of snow. Winter is here. I love the snow in December, but by March it gets a little old. I am comforted by knowing that it can’t last forever.

Knowing that things don’t last forever is my source of hope for the next 6 weeks. I came back to Utah over the weekend to start the process for my second transplant. I left my husband and kids. I was just starting to feel better. My hair was growing back. And now, I will do it all over again.

My treatments started yesterday with a full day of tests. The testing marathon began at 7:30 a.m. with a heart test where I was injected with radioactive material for a scan. Next was another bone marrow biopsy. (Memo to self: get the double dose of conscious sedation like last time because there was still a lot of crying this time.) I had labs drawn. My next stop was a PET scan. It is slightly nerve wracking to be led to an isolated room with a radioactive material symbol on the door and to have a dangerous substance be pulled from a lead-covered canister and injected into me. Something about that just feels wrong. My last test was a pulmonary function test with an arterial blood draw (worse than an IV but better than the biopsy). I finished the day at 5 p.m.

It was a hard day for me. I tried not to let my challenging day spill over onto the people around me. They could still have a great day, but I gave myself permission to have a bad day on occasion and to be guilt-free about it.

The best part about bad days are that they don’t last forever. Time passes, we do hard things and we get through them. Today is a new day and I can see a light at the end of the treatment tunnel.

I can have a rough day and still be grateful. I have gained the weight I needed (thank you empanadas). I am healthy (thank you for your prayers). I had a friend’s hand to hold (thank you Sharon). My family is coming for Christmas (thank you airlines). With the doctor’s go-ahead, I will start chemo in the next few days. In the coming weeks I will feel crummy, but in a few months my two transplants will be over. I will start to feel better, I will be reunited with my family and my hair will start to grow back.

I am discovering that enduring is more than just waiting. I have to grab the opportunities I have in the circumstances that I have them. It is time once again for more reading, more resting and more learning.

Eventually the snow will melt, the flowers will grow and I will be able to wear open toed shoes once again (with hair).

Viva Mexico

The view of Monterrey from our house

At last I am home with the family in Mexico!

What a thrill to be here for a few weeks after being away for almost 3 months.

It has been a week of doing favorite things – reading stories to the kids, snuggling with them at night time, date nights with Paul, seeing friends, and of course, eating my way through Monterrey.

Some people think we are crazy to live in Mexico, but it has some distinct advantages – friendly people, sunny weather, palm trees, and the best tacos in the world.

First, the people. We would not be making it without Angie and Cecia, our Mexican angels.

We adore these women and are so grateful for their service. They are happy, inspiring women. They keep things running smoothly at home and care for everyone – our family in addition to Paul’s work staff (who are now officing downstairs).

The people of Mexico are supremely gracious and have a warmth that is heartfelt and genuine. The only way I can describe their loving nature is that they put people and  relationships first.  The teachers at the kids’ school are kind and loving and have given the children extra attention. I receive an email with a photo of Reed each week from class, so I can stay connected with my son. Our Mexican friends have gone out of their way to help us in any way they could. Paul’s business associate traveled all the way to Europe to obtain holy water for a close relative. When he ran into Paul’s partner in the airport, he gave him the holy water for me. I saw him the other night at a dinner and couldn’t hold back the tears in gratitude for his kindness. Without fail, our friends in Mexico say that their family is praying for us. What beautiful people.

Now for the food. With doctor’s orders to gain weight before I start my next treatment, I am totally  justified in sampling the best Monterrey has to offer .

Since you can’t be here, I will take you on a quick tour of my favorite eating establishments.

Here’s my favorite bakery, with the best empanadas anywhere. Manzana (apple) or pina (pineapple) are my favorites.

Most of the pastries in Mexico are too dry for my American taste, but these empanadas are just right – not too much crust, lots of filling, and freshly made.

This weekend, we went to our favorite taco place – El Fogoncito (“The Little Hearth”) . They specialize in tacos pastor, which are thinly sliced pork tacos with pineapple. Sam calls them “Heaven on a plate.”

The kids now enjoy the tacos as much as Paul and I. They like “authentic” tacos – meat, lime, onion, cilantro and salsa – never any beans, sour cream or cheese. Most of the kids like the corn tortillas, but Sam is still a holdout for flour. Both are divine. They order a Fanta or Manzana (apple) soda in a glass bottle. We stay away from soda in the states, but in Mexico, we let them because it just feels right.

The kids’ favorite place for a treat is Al Fresco’s, where you can get Italian gelato, or Orange Cup, where they have ultra-healthy frozen yogurt. Ice cream in Mexico is sub-par judging from what I am used to, but they do have a Haagen-Dazs and a Cold Stone if you are feeling nostalgic for American ice cream.

For a fancy treat, we stop at Binny Brunn. Their chocolates are fabulous.  Everyone is very gracious in Mexico and brings gifts when they come to your home for a party. Someone brought a box of these one time to our house, and I think they are the best chocolates I’ve ever had.

Enough about the food. Although food can be part heavenly, real heaven is being with my family. I can’t imagine being without them. Even if I can’t do much in the way of activity, I like just being close to them.

I am still recovering and resting, and (sort of) taking my sister’s advice: “Always be in bed when they get home from school.” They are so stinking cute that it is hard not to get pulled back into their world of school, homework, friends, driving, and other activities.

One of the blessings of living in Mexico is that their world is expanding. Neal is teaching me new words in Spanish popote (straw) and se acabo (all gone) and wants to tell me all about his friend Jose. In fact, he proudly announces on a daily basis that “Today I played with Jose and I did NOT punch him in the face.”  Reed speaks Spanish around the house and Pablo is completely fluent.

Clark and Sam complain that they are not learning enough Spanish, but they play Spanish games on Dad’s Ipad to pass the time and are better at Spanish than they think. Former intern and friend James used the Pimsleur CDs and was fluent by the time he came to Mexico, so maybe we will try that next.

I will enjoy my next two weeks with the family with all of its motion. I am just glad to be home.

The Fourth Blessing of Cancer: Being Still

I am about to go back to see my family for almost a month. I can’t wait! Being away from my family has been so strange. I miss them so much, but I have needed time to rest and to heal.

After 15 years of mothering, it is odd to be given such a large block of time right in the middle of my parenting.

I am used to being in motion – fast and constant. Having an entrepreneur husband and six kids accounts for much of the motion, but I have an overachiever personality to boot, and have added activities and projects to my already full plate. My life was full of appointments, schedules, expectations and responsibilities.

Cancer has forced me to drop them all. I would have never set my stewardship down voluntarily. It had to be literally taken out of my hands.

The world of cancer has a different pace. Cancer treatments take time and are unhurried. The treatment process can span months and years. There are times of pain where survival is the only aim. Recoveries are slow. Family and friends help to take over responsibilities that can no longer be handled alone. Priorities that were once paramount shrink to nothing. Outside pressures and expectations diminish. Kind people encourage rest and healing.

So what will I do with all of the time?

I could entertain my way through it, but I have a gut feeling that I won’t learn the lessons I need if I fill the time with diversions. I could take up a new hobby, but that didn’t work out so well either.

One day,  Sharon and I saw some a cute hand-knit scarf in a store. They were a a simple rectangle design with one buttonhole on one side. “This would be easy to make,” we both said. Never mind that neither one of us knew how to knit, nor had I crocheted anything since I was 9.

(Here’s the only photo I can find of the general idea: alexaludeman.com It doesn’t look that hard, does it?)

We tried to find a yarn store and then went home in a moment of strength, telling ourselves we didn’t need a new project. We both had plenty of work (Sharon’s photography) and interests (my reading and writing).

Unfortunately, Sharon found a quaint yarn store and our willpower melted. We ended up buying $80 worth of fine yarn and a pair of knitting needles. Sharon dutifully attended the free knitting class. She knitted and purled at home to practice, but ended up taking most of it out after trying to remember the instructor’s directions. I watched a You Tube lesson to brush up on crochet and then worked on that simple chain stitch, shaking the whole time because of the effects of the transplant. A day later, we saw our mistake and set it aside. We will not be making scarves, now or ever. (Does anyone know how to knit? We have really nice yarn and a pattern!)

As a mother, I know how precious and scarce quiet time really is. Why did I fill this rare resource with extra, unimportant busyness?

In the case of the scarf, I think I allowed my busyness to define me. If I am busy, I feel more competent, talented, valuable or important because I am creating or producing, even though the produced product has little or no end value whatsoever.

This is only one of my many reasons for staying busy. Here are more:

What starts as work towards a noble goal becomes a long list of tasks, with no regular system of measurement in place to see if the goal is actually being achieved.

Sometimes I just want to be “done” so I rush through the motions to get to the end, when there is really no true end, only “enduring to the end.” In the rush, I usually miss the moments that mattered.

Living with scarcity is almost easier than living with prosperity. There are SO many choices. I think I might have nagging regret that in picking something up, I had to put something else down. Choosing my “best” thing means that I will miss out on something interesting, urgent or important.

Cancer brought me to a screeching halt. Stepping out of my daily routine for a long enough time has taught me a thing or two about being busy.

Busyness brings haste. Brigham Young’s message for Utahns in 1872 is  also for me.  “You are all the time on the wing, and in such a hurry that you do not know what to do first.”

Haste destroys inner peace and leaves no time for reflection or contemplation.

Haste fails to prioritize. Everything is urgent and important.

Haste closes our eyes to simple gifts we receive every day. We fail to look up and see the beauty of the ordinary, our noses buried in our long to-do list.

Haste brings impatience, which damages relationships. Eye contact, conversation, listening, courtesy and graciousness are lost in the rush to get to the next thing.

(Sigh.) Cancer has made me tired of being in a hurry. Knowing how rare quiet time will be in my life, I am taking advantage of being still. I have surrounded myself with silence, ready to be taught new lessons. I have visited with friends and enjoyed their company.  I have written letters to my children. I have read good books and listened to music that brings me joy. I have walked through beautiful neighborhoods and driven up canyons just to enjoy the leaves. I have enjoyed time in the hammock in the back yard. Being in nature, especially, has been uplifting and healing.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” Anne Frank

It was in nature that Thoreau was able to find more white space in his life. “I love a broad margin around my day,” he writes.

Giving your self a broader margin certainly seems easier to do if you are alone in the woods for a year, but Thoreau had the right idea, even for normal family life. Nature plays at a different tempo than we do.

Living differently is possible – I’ve seen people pull it off. My role models are men and women of character and accomplishment. They do not seem to be frantic people in a hurry. They have an unfailing sense of purpose and work steadily every day to accomplish that purpose. They take time to plan and prepare for the day ahead. They pray for divine help and dedicate their efforts to their Creator. They are realistic about how much can be done in one day. They are gracious and thoughtful. They do the best they can, and have faith that it is enough.

Learning to do this for myself will be my next discovery. I am grateful that cancer has helped me see things differently. Living differently will be the ultimate reward.

The Third Blessing of Cancer: Enlarged Hearts

Last weekend tipped me over and I am still trying to get back up. I am recovering well from the first stem cell transplant, but having my daughter hurt and being completely incapable of taking care of her has hit me hard. What could I do to help her on the day she broke her leg?  Nothing. She was cared for by Paul, family and friends while I was in the hospital.

For someone who was taught to be highly independent and self-sufficient, this was emotionally startling. I am not used to being completely out for the count, helpless or totally reliant on others. I am happier when I have my bases covered and when I can help someone else in need.

Or am I? Can you see a lesson coming? I can. Cancer is teaching me at a very deep level to both give and receive service, and the purpose in doing so.

I have learned the lessons of independence, but like every good thing, it can be taken to the extreme. Taken too far, independence is an inward focus. It is pride in my own abilities. It is ingratitude for the contribution of others. It ignores my reliance on God. It is self-satisfaction that no outside help was required, but is also smug justification to avoid service for others.

Fortunately, total independence is out of the question. We had help coming into this world and we will need help thriving here. This weekend helped me to see the divine purpose of interdependence.

Leo Tolstoy tells a short story about Simon, a shoemaker, who went into town to collect on money owed him. He would use the money to buy sheepskin to make a winter coat for his wife. Unsuccessful in collecting the money, he headed home empty-handed. On his way home, he met a man who had no clothes, food or shelter. He invited the stranger into his home, gave him clothes to wear and food to eat – to the great resentment of his wife. He reminded his wife of God, and she relented to have him stay. Michael the stranger became a master shoemaker under the direction of Simon. Several patrons came wanting shoes, including a woman who had twin daughters, one of whom had a crushed foot. Simon, his wife and Michael learned that this woman had rescued the twin girls as babies. Their father had been killed by a falling tree and their mother had died of sickness the same week, crushing the infant’s foot as she died. This gracious woman had taken the girls and loved them as her own, even through the death of her own infant son. Only then did Michael reveal that he was an angel, sent back to earth to learn three truths before he could return. He shared his observations:

“I know that God does not desire men to live apart from each other; and therefore, He has not revealed to them what is needful for each of them to live by himself. He wishes them to live together, united, and therefore, has revealed to them that they are needful to each other’s happiness…

I have now understood that though it seems to men that they live by care for themselves, in truth it is love alone by which they live. He who has love, is in God, and God is in him, for God is love.” What Men Live By, Leo Tolstoy

I am completely overwhelmed by the service and love that has been showered on our family since August. Love is Karen and Brian, who opened their home to me and Esther and James, who opened their home to Megan. Love is Sharon, who anticipates every need. Love is my sister with 5 kids offering to take Megan, completely doped up on Oxycodone and in tremendous pain, into her home after surgery. Love is my friend Kristin coming to care for Megan and staying overnight when my sister caught the flu the very next day. Love is the whole Hudgens family pitching in to help her for an entire week, day and night.  Love is Jayson and Michelle helping her next.

Love is Roger fishing Neal out of our pool when he saw him drowning. Love is Tami moving to Mexico and taking care of 7 boys every day. Love is Montse taking Neal to the doctor when mom and dad are both out of town and Melanie and Cliff making a steam tent. Love is SanDee and Tim making sure your children have friends. Love is Angelica and Cecia, self-designated angels to the kids until I return.

Love is Nancy’s flowers and Kristin’s gifts and their great concern and care for me and for Megan. Love is Jenn sending a picture of your child in an email every week from school. Love is Janalee bringing a cheesecake in her carry-on luggage all the way back from New York. Love is big sister visits. Love is Georgia’s favorite shirt and massages.

Love is food and company from Jane, Linda, Robin and Lisa and all of my dear friends from my old neighborhood. Love is music from Ann, Brian, Michael and Aunt Diane. Love is a warm blanket and a pair of fuzzy slippers from SueAnn and Neal. Love is a book from Bill, Shelley and Dad. Love is Esther’s constant friendship. Love is a pair of pajamas from Mom. Love is your visits, emails and phone calls.

Disease can be a blessing. If there were no illness, we would have fewer opportunities and reasons to provide comfort and relief, to become better listeners and more compassionate people.  Acts of charity strengthen our relationships, enlarge our hearts and help us find true joy.

It is said that many prayers are answered through the service of others. Our prayers have been answered by you. I see the wisdom in God’s plan for the nurturing of His children – as we care for one another, we all grow. You have taught me a greater way to give; to be more attentive to the needs of others, to take the time to sit and listen, to reach out with greater compassion, to serve without being asked. I have seen you do these things and I will work to follow your lead. Because of your service and sacrifice, I am learning to expand my own heart. Thank you, all.

My BMT Family

The  architect who designed Huntsman Cancer Hospital is a friend of ours. I called him one day to thank him for designing such an amazing facility. I didn’t mean to choke back tears on his voicemail, but I did. Walking into Huntsman is a peaceful and comforting experience. It has a decidedly warm, non-hospital feel to it where people smile at you in the elevators and lobbies, and patients in the waiting areas look content.

I know that the physical space helps to create this welcoming feeling, but the real warmth comes from the people who are part of my care.

When I first arrived, another patient mentioned how the staff was like his extended family. I am glad that I am now part of this family. These remarkable people are all capable and competent, but they are more than this. They care about me and about their other patients. They do difficult things every day to provide care, but are also willing to do small and simple things for everyone visiting the clinic – patients, caregivers and visitors.

You get to meet these extraordinary people. (I wasn’t able to get photos of everyone, but I am still working on this. We need a few more trips with the camera to get everyone, but I will update as I get them.)

This is my welcoming committee, Bernie and P.T. They organize the comings and goings of the patients and are always happy to provide water or lunch.  P.T., did your wife have her baby yet??

My next stop after arrival is the lab, where I get weighed, get my blood pressure taken and get my height checked to see if I have gotten shorter since yesterday.  April and Jolin both work in the lab full-time and go to school, so they are very busy people. They are bright spots in my day.

April will hold your hand if you need extra support and they both politely ignore my regular face-wince as my port is accessed to draw labs.

I need a picture of Elaine here, who is the best port-accesser ever.  Her Doberman just won the show at the National Dog Show in Kansas. Congratulations, Elaine!

In the infusion room, I receive chemo, fluids or any other treatment. This is also the room for stem cell collections. It is a very busy room during the week and keeps everyone hopping. I hope to get photos of all of the nurses including Jill, Deb, Malene and Laurie. This is Erline, a sharp nurse who is kind and knows her stuff. I am grateful for her help and her efficiency, especially for helping me get through the not-so-great days.

Huntsman Cancer Center is one of three facilities in the nation to do the stem cell transplant as an outpatient procedure.  As I am on the tail end of my first transplant, I see the great benefit of this. Except for situations that require hospitalization, you get to sleep in your own bed, eat the food you like, visit with family and friends  and heal faster. Part of this healing is seeing the same friendly faces and having continuity of care in the clinic.

Abby and Andrea work under my doctor as Physician’s Assistants and help assess and direct care. I still need a photo of Abby, but this is Andrea. They are both bright, talented, capable and kind. I still like them, even though they are responsible for my bone marrow biopsies. I try not to harbor grudges.

 

 

Huntsman offers additional resources to help with the treatment process. One resource is a Coordinator, who makes sure that all of the details of treatment are scheduled and, well, coordinated. Carol makes sure that tests, treatments, medicines, dates, nutrition and counseling are all provided, depending on what I need.

Geri is a counselor and great listener. She helped me learn how to deep breathe and relax during the emotionally and physically stressful parts of the treatment. She is sympathetic and understanding and has made the entire process easier to handle.

Of course, I owe a great gratitude to my doctor, Dr. Guido Tricot.  I admire his experience and his depth of work in the field of Multiple Myeloma. I appreciate his thorough but unhurried nature. I am grateful for his personal concern, even with all that he has to do. He has great responsibilities at Huntsman and rightly so. He will not only successfully care for patients but will greatly advance the efforts of myeloma research and cures in the coming years.

I am lucky to have joined this amazing extended family. They have both capacity and compassion, a truly perfect combination for me and for my new myeloma friends.

Thank Goodness it’s Monday

They say things come in threes. We are glad it’s Monday. Last weekend’s triple-header was a little overwhelming.

On Saturday, I was in the BMT clinic receiving my daily meds and had a low-grade fever.  The fever wasn’t high enough to be admitted, but while Paul and I sat in the infusion room, we received a call that Megan had fallen 15 feet off a rope swing at a friends cabin and had broken her femur.

The paramedics took Megan to Primary Children’s Hospital and five hours of surgery, one titanium rod, three screws, and a few stitches later, she was back together.

While Paul was waiting outside Megan’s operating room, my fever had spiked and the doctors asked me to check into the University of Utah  Hospital BMT Intensive Care Unit. By 7 p.m. Saturday night Megan was out of surgery and both Megan and I were checking into our hospital rooms at the same time.  By late Saturday night and into Sunday, my fevers were running in a four hour cycle of spiking at 104, bringing it down with Tylenol and rising again as the Tylenol wore off.

Back in Mexico, our youngest Neal had developed a severe croup and was having difficulty breathing. It was one year ago, that Paul made a 2 a.m. visit to a Mexico emergency room for Neal’s croup. Last night his little voice could barely eek out “Dad, I’m sick”. Croup is manageable if you know what to do, but if you don’t,  it can be scary. Tami was briefed on croup and our friends in Mexico came over for additional training on how to make a steam tent, which medicines to give him and gave Neal a blessing.

 

Paul's Daily Walk

 

Paul did what Paul does best. He remained calm and took care of his family. The only bonus for him was the skywalk connecting the University of Utah Hospital with Primary Children’s Hospital. For the next three days, Paul walked back and forth between the hospitals, checking on his high-maintenance  girls.

Needless to say, the angels living among us kicked into high gear.  Esther and James took care of Megan’s paramedic transport to the hospital and stayed to make sure she was in good hands.  Sondra and her husband came up to help. Sharon thought of everything and brought it, taking turns caring for me and Megan. Our dear friend Parley Williams, was the resident on duty at the Primary Children’s Hospital and was one of the doctors watching over Megan.

Megan had many visitors with wonderful care packages; Nancy and Dusty, Kristin and Sadie, Joel and Lani and their daughters, Jayson and Michelle and Alysia and Sean and their kids, and the Peery family.

Thank you for your great love and support. We are the recipients of love in action.

Paul and Jenny

The Second Blessing of Cancer: Revisiting Control

The nurse administering my stem cell transplant chemo commented, “You seem to be doing better than the last round of chemo.” I thought back to my first day of chemo when everything was unknown, uncertain and just plain scary. Of course I am doing better, I thought. In a two week time period I had just been informed I had cancer, that there is no formal cure, that we needed to choose a treatment path, that we needed to decide where to locate the family, that we had to get insurance approval for treatment and that I needed a 24×7 caregiver. I had no idea what to expect during treatment because I had never done this before. Yes, losing the perceived control I thought I had over my life shook me up considerably.

The unknown has a way of instilling fear into humans, who like predictability. Just look at the financial markets. We all get a little skittish when we don’t know what to expect.

Cancer changes your world in a matter of hours. Because the severity of the trial is beyond your power and personal control, you must rely on a team of people to get you through. You are suddenly dependent on doctors and research that offer medical treatment, on caregivers for rides, food and water, and on family and friends for emotional support.

I ask, how much control do I really have over my life? The extremes are easy to consider; passive resistance that I am controlled by fate, or hard-headed arrogance that my life is completely my own. I am realizing now I am both dependent and independent. I am an agent of choice and change and yet do not command the universe or its workings. I control much of my own destiny and at the same time am dependent for all that Heaven provides – food, air, sun, and the breath of life. There are two forces at play: God’s will and my own personal will.

I’ve been reading about Abraham Lincoln who also learned about God’s will and personal will as he made every effort to stop the Civil War. From his inauguration in 1861, he fought to save the Union. When war began, he worked tirelessly to end it. In 1864, he saw God’s deliberate hand in the events and came to the conclusion that God would end the war at the appropriate time, when He wanted it to end. “The purposes of the Almighty are perfect” he wrote. The purposes “must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance… We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and and has ruled otherwise.” He then noted the importance of personal will. “Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.” “The purposes of the Almighty” letter to Eliza P. Gurney, September 4, 1864, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 7:535.

Like Lincoln, I realize that success will only come as I seek to understand God’s will and then do what I can with my personal will to “work earnestly in the best light he gives” me. So how do I determine God’s will for me? In a word, prayer. “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other” Prayer, Bible Dictionary

Recognizing and understanding God’s will seems to come to humans in a gradation of maturity: First, we can ignore His will completely. Second, we can selectively obey his will. Third we do His will out of duty, but with irritation. Fourth, we can do His will with a glad heart.

Seeking His will takes a bit of humility. “To be humble is to recognize gratefully our dependence on the Lord—to understand that we have constant need for His support. Humility is an acknowledgment that our talents and abilities are gifts from God. It is not a sign of weakness, timidity, or fear; it is an indication that we know where our true strength lies. We can be both humble and fearless. We can be both humble and courageous.” Humility

The best part about humility is that it opens the door to a teaching opportunity. I no longer know everything, so what do I need to learn? My plan is no longer my own, is there a bigger plan for me than the one I had in mind? All doors and windows are literally thrown open to a new view of the world. My predictable world is shattered, but for the better. Perhaps there is no personal growth in a comfort zone.

At the same time, no matter what happens “to” me, I still make daily choices about how I react to each life situation. As Stephen Covey puts it, “Between stimulus and response is our greatest power – the freedom to choose.” The magnificent gift of free will is the greatest gift we have, next to life itself. What do I still control, even during cancer treatment? My gratitude for the great kindness of others, my attitude, my communication with family and children, my thoughts and ideas. As I recover and resume normal activity, the list will grow.

But I will forever know that bringing God’s will and my personal will into alignment will always be in my best interest. “God knows best,” says Lincoln. And I am inclined to agree.

The First Blessing of Cancer: Taking Stock

I’ve tried to be healthy, I really have. I don’t drink or smoke. I eat whole grains, have cut out most refined sugars and exercise pretty regularly. Getting a cancer diagnosis was totally unexpected, to say the least. But a cancer diagnosis for anyone; breast cancer for my mother, a brain tumor for my friend’s 5-year-old son, leukemia for my brother-in-law or even lung cancer for my chain smoking grandfather is equally shocking.

The sentence, “You have cancer,” is distressing because it makes the general truth of mortality an immediate and possible personal reality. It is no longer that people die, but that you, your child, your spouse, or your friend could die. And that they could die in a few days, months, or years. Time is suddenly limited and now more precious. In one simple sentence, your life is forever changed.

But the shock of cancer also leads to the First Blessing of Cancer. Saying “I have cancer” felt like a dream. My immediate next thought was, “Oh no. What about…?”

What about my family, my children, my spouse, my future, my life’s work? Whether you react in sorrow, surprise, numbness or anger to the news, you unconsciously and instantly consider your life’s top priorities.

I was suddenly forced to take stock of my life. I had a more pressing reason to ask heavy and important questions: Have I chosen my priorities well? Have I spent the time where it was best spent? Did I build the relationships I needed to create and nurture? Did I serve God? Did I understand His will for me? Was I accomplishing my life’s purpose?

There are two ways of being: task-oriented and people-oriented. There is no question that I am insufferably task-oriented. But when I take stock, all that really matters to me are my relationships – with my eternal Father and His Son, with my family, and with the people I am meant to know, love and serve in this life. Tasks are needful and good, but relationships are clearly the “better part.”

I suppose I am now faced with an opportunity (a forced one!)  to evaluate and prioritize, but an opportunity nonetheless. We all have this opportunity because none of us know when we will die, but it is easy to forget unless we are confronted with the reality.  “All of us have faced deadlines. Fear can grip us when we realize that there may not be enough time left to finish what we promised we would do. The thought comes, “Why didn’t I start earlier?” Do Not Delay, Henry B. Eyring.

I want to eliminate this kind of fear and regret. I hope my opportunity will not be missed. I am grateful for the First Blessing of Taking Stock and know that it leads to eternal truths: time is limited, life is precious, obedience to true principles is joyful, choices matter, and change is always possible.

Father and Sons

A Game of Pit Monster

I mentioned to Paul that there are women who think it is just great that he is taking care of the children. They usually say, “It will be good for him” and “He will really appreciate what you do by the time you get back.”

When he is asked how he is doing in raising five boys and doing the heavy lifting of creating a new venture startup simultaneously, he says, “If I had known it was this easy, I would have asked Jenny a long time ago what she did all day!” I guess you have to know Paul. With a smile he says that he wants the names and phone numbers of these women.

More than feeling satisfied that he is learning to appreciate me, I am spending a great deal of time in awe of my husband who is managing a challenging situation with great capacity and courage.

This weekend I had a jail break and travelled to Monterrey to see Paul and my boys. (Don’t tell my doctor. I swear I wore a mask ALL the time!) It was a heavenly weekend with the favorite men in my life. There were family dinners, a special dinner with friends, watching the kids jump on the trampoline, church, naps and stories, snuggle time, hugs and normalcy. It filled me up and was the most perfect weekend I could have imagined.

My husband plays with the boys, tells them original nightly stories, and listens to them. He does have support there, thanks to the loving help given by Tami, Angelica, Cecia, Justin and our many friends in Monterrey, but Paul is a father, a mentor and a friend to these boys. Paul has been walking to school with Neal every day, listening to his chatter about his friend Jose and his teacher, and helping him pick flowers for Mom, Tami and Angie. The new foosball and air hockey tables look like an extended father/son outing to me, but Paul knows this is a time for the boys to bond with one another.

The weekend confirmed that we had made good decisions both for my health and for the family’s emotional needs. The boys will miss me, but they will spend a unique time with their dad that can never be replaced. Paul’s high emotional I.Q. serves him well. He leads kindly and knows the importance of letting the kids make decisions and mistakes which become powerful personal lessons.

As a father and entrepreneur, there will always be a struggle to balance the split between work and home.  The day-to-day decisions like when to come home, when to attend a child’s event, when to take a work call and when to listen to a child will always be a juggling of priorities for any parent, especially one with two full-time jobs.  But in all of these efforts at both work and at home, he is supporting his family physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. I am forever grateful for all he does for his family.  I am lucky to have such a husband. These boys are lucky to have such a father.

He says that he can never do all that he has seen me do for the kids. He says he handles the situation by telling the kids to “wake up, get dressed, get your own breakfast and run to the OXXO and pick me up some milk!” I know better. These kids are in good hands and they will be just fine.